A Weekender's Guide to Canberra
With microbreweries, award-winning boutique hotels and a strong restaurant game, the nation's capital has more to it than meets the eye.
May 29, 2020
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For most people who grew up in Australia, primary school excursions left you thinking that Canberra was all about politicians and roundabouts. Years later, that concept couldn't be further from the truth. Over the past few years, Australia's capital city has had quite the food, drink and cultural revolution. Spend a weekend in Canberra and you can wander through breweries, eat at spectacular restaurants and cafes and stay the night at what we think is one of Australia's most beautiful accommodation spots. To ensure you go beyond the excursion favourites, Questacon and Parliament House, here's your guide to spending a weekend in Canberra as a food and wine loving adult.
From pristine beaches and bountiful wine regions to alpine hideaways and bustling country towns, Australia has a wealth of places to explore at any time of year. We've partnered with Tourism Australia to help you plan your road trips, weekend detours and summer getaways so that when you're ready to hit the road you can Holiday Here This Year.
Under current COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, there are restrictions on where you can go on holiday. Bookmark this for when you can explore once again.
EAT AND DRINK
After cruising up the Hume Highway, you'll want a refuel in the form of a damn good coffee. Get started at Highroad on the corner of Cape and Woolley streets. Run by boutique roastery Ona, this specialty coffee house serves a mean cup of joe as well as inventive cafe fare — think kimchi waffles with gochujang butter, prawn toast benedict and corn bread french toast. It also has a diverse selection of wines and craft beers from local and interstate breweries. Meanwhile, Barrio is a Braddon cafe dedicated to simple and high-quality coffee and food with a seasonal and local focus. It makes its own nut milk and, for breakfast, you can expect stroopwafels, marrow butter with fried egg and shallots on sourdough and rye with avocado and togorashi seasoning.
When you're ready for a mid-morning treat, head to Braddon's Scandi-inspired Rye. It has brews from Sydney's specialty coffee roaster, Five Senses, and a lengthy food menu, with dishes such as dutch baby skillet pancakes for breakfast and a range of smørrebrød (Scandinavian open sandwiches) for lunch. Better yet, it serves breakfast cocktails, too. Then, get yourself to Silo Bakery and Cafe in Kingston. Collapse onto a wooden banquette before starting on the hard bit — making your choice from the massive array of freshly baked cakes and pastries in the cabinet. If you're vegan, get your sugar fix at Sweet Bones back in Braddon.
While in Braddon, visit Bentspoke Brewing Co, a microbrewery and taphouse combining beer with bicycles — it works, trust us. More than 21 brews — from the much-loved Crankshaft IPA to How's It Gosen tropical gose — are on tap at any one time. For more Canberra craft beer goodness, make tracks to Capital Brewing Co. Situated within the city's new creative hotspot, the Dairy Road District, the expansive brewery and taproom is the first permanent home for Capital Brewing — who had previously been gypsy brewing across several sites in Sydney. And it has a taproom like no other, with a massive outdoor area, lawn games, a cubby house and Brodburger food truck.
Come lunch or dinner, some of the tastiest Italian in the ACT is found at Italian & Sons. This fun-loving place champions old-school warmth and traditional regional cooking. Dig into duck and porcini gnocchi or take your pick from the simple pizza menu. Speaking of pizza, be sure to drop by Mama Dough pizza shop — this teeny-tiny venue slings incredible woodfired pizzas cooked in an impressive imported pizza oven. If you can't score a highly coveted seat, order a pie to take away.
Craving a more upmarket feed? There's a bunch of hatted restaurants in Canberra, offering unique and refined fare. We suggest stopping by Aubergine, where head chef Ben Willis is lauded for his local produce-driven wonders. Make a long afternoon or evening of it and take your time over the seasonal tasting menu. Or, you could check out refined all-day diner Rebel Rebel, in the New Acton precinct, led by chef Sean McConnell — the corn and manchego croquette with prawn head aioli is a must-order.
Later on, if you're looking to kick back in a small bar, try Amici on Northbourne Avenue. The deli-cum-wine bar has an excellent selection of vinos, plus cocktails, cheese, meats and hand-stretched pizzas. If you're keen for something a little more dark and mysterious, try Bar Rochford for a quiet glass of wine among the vinyl and pot plants, or Molly for a speakeasy atmosphere in a former bank vault lined with booths.
No visit to Canberra is ever complete without a wander through the National Gallery of Australia's enormous space and epic works. There's always a temporary exhibition that draws crowds, such as the upcoming Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London. The permanent collections are equally worthy of a visit, with Yayoi Kusama's Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, James Turrell's Within Without Skyspace and Urs Fischer's candle sculpture, Francesco, all housed within the gallery's walls.
Once you've got your culture fix, it's time to get outside and stretch your legs. Check out Canberra's hilly surrounds by visiting a local lookout — Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain (home to the Telstra Tower) are among the most popular. If you're keen to beat the crowds, try Red Hill in the south or Mount Pleasant, where you'll find the grave of General Bridges — the only Aussie soldier who died in Gallipoli to have had his body returned to his homeland. You can find more walks to conquer around Canberra here.
If you're in the mood to splash some cash, the Braddon precinct is packed with specialty stores, including the excellent one-two punch at 27 Lonsdale Street of boutique bottle-o Blackhearts and Sparrows and high-end ceramics label Bisonhome.
One of Canberra's most design-centric stays is Ovolo Nishi. The award-winning hotel is a self-described 'collaboration with designers, artists, artisans and fantasists'. Each and every one of the 68 rooms is unique and categorised according to feel: choose from Cosy, Snug, Original, Creative or Meandering. What they have in common is their references to the quintessential Aussie bush. Think clay walls, beds made of recycled oak, oversized rain showers, found objects and artworks.
Another designer option is QT Canberra. This 205-room hotel hinges on the fun and unexpected, featuring tongue-in-cheek political references. Walking into the dark, marble-lined lobby, you'll notice famous world politicians portrayed in left-of-field, neon-lit portraits, as well as a TV screening major historic moments. Some rooms come with views and Lake Burley Griffin is just a stumble away, as is the well-stocked hotel bar.
To stay in compact comfort with a sleek, New York-style aesthetic, book in at Little National. This conveniently located, 120-room hotel is fitted out with rich timber furnishings, has cracking city views and, quite uniquely, is situated on top of a car park, right next door to Parliament House. It has a 24-hour lounge and library with a roaring fireplace in winter, plus guests have access to a nearby gym, two day spas and a wellbeing centre.
Whether you're planning to travel for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, Holiday Here This Year and you'll be supporting Australian businesses while you explore the best of our country's diverse landscapes and attractions.
Top image: Bentspoke Brewing via VisitCanberra.
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